Thursday, June 08, 2017

“The Hero”– Movie Review


Hero

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “The Hero” starring Sam Elliott.

Synopsis

When an actor learns he is dying, will he be able to resolve family conflicts before it’s too late?

Story

Hollywood is known to be a cruel town – and especially cruel to those unable to resist aging.  This is precisely the problem Lee (Elliott) is facing now; as a senior citizen, the roles he used to get acting in Westerns on television and in movies have dried up considerably.  But things are about to get much worse for Lee; upon meeting with his doctor, he learns some rather unfortunate news about his biopsy – at the age of 71, he’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the prognosis is none too promising.  Lee is now forced to confront his new reality and limited future. 

Lee has initial difficulty internalizing his diagnosis; this manifests itself in his inability to tell his neighbor Jeremy (Nick Offerman), his ex-wife Valarie (Katherine Ross) and their daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter), from whom he has been long estranged.  One day while visiting Jeremy to purchase weed, he meets Charlotte (Laura Prepon), another of Jeremy’s “customers”; they hit it off immediately and shortly thereafter start dating.  Insecure about why such a young woman would be interested in him, Lee attends Charlotte’s stand-up act at a comedy club; immediately feeling humiliated when she makes jokes about the hazards of dating an older man, he exits, convinced they are over.

Charlotte apologizes and tries to make amends; reunited, it is at this point that Lee finally is able to summon up the courage to reveal his diagnosis.  This being a much-needed breakthrough, Lee now decides to meet with Valarie and Lucy separately in order to break the news to them.  Although Valarie responds sympathetically, Lucy is more of a challenge; having been disappointed by her father countless times over the years, she sees this as yet another side of his absentee fatherhood.  With time running out, will Lee be forced to spend his remaining days alone or can those closest to him provide the necessary support until the end?

Review

As much of a pleasure Sam Elliott is to watch (and hear) in “The Hero”, it is not necessarily enough to recommend seeing the movie – unless, of course you’re such a hardcore fan of Elliott that skipping one of his works would be unthinkable.  As his girlfriend, Prepon’s Charlotte seems unworthy of Lee (who apparently was no angel himself in his earlier years); after insulting him in her stand-up comedy act while he’s in the audience, she unconvincingly tries to explain her reasoning for doing so.  It seemed the perfect opportunity for Lee to invoke the maxim, “Many a truth is often said in jest”. 

Haley’s screenplay is somewhat hackneyed; we’ve pretty much seen this story before and in considerably better movies.  As a storyteller, he really doesn’t seem to be able to explain things terribly well (e.g., a big deal is made of Lee losing his cell phone and then in the very next scene, it is apparently recovered – but how and when, we have no idea).  For another thing, Haley seems to overuse shots of Lee standing on the beach staring at the ocean.  It puts in the viewer’s mind the thought that one of those “A Star Is Born” types of moments might be coming. 

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with both writer/director Brett Haley and Elliott.  Haley said that he came up with the idea for “The Hero” after working with Elliott on a previous project ("I'll See You in My Dreams") and they wound up shooting this movie in only 18 days.  Elliott said that one of his reasons for doing the film was because he felt that the character exemplified a problem he himself ran into as an actor:  the fact that he gets known for a certain type of role and winds up being “boxed in”.  Despite wanting to star in Westerns since childhood, after a while, he felt a desire to do something different but found it difficult to get cast in any other type. 

The Hero (2017) on IMDb

Thursday, June 01, 2017

“Churchill”– Movie Review

 

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This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new biographical drama, “Churchill”, starring Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson. 

Synopsis

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill grows increasingly depressed over the impending Battle of Normandy on D-Day, can his wife set him in the right frame of mind to successfully lead the country?

Story

At the beginning of June 1944, the world was in the thick of its second war and it was just days before Operation Overlord would commence.  It was at this time that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Cox) met with the generals from The Allied Forces – Eisenhower and Montgomery (John Slattery and Julian Wadham) – to review the final version of their plan for The Battle Of Normandy.  To their surprise, Churchill informs them he thinks the plan will not work; while ambitious, it is far too risky and The Allies will incur many casualties.

In a private meeting, Ike tells Churchill that regardless of what he thinks, they are going forward with the plan – it’s just a matter of when, depending on favorable weather conditions.  Churchill warns him there was a similar plan in The Battle of Gallipoli during The Great War and it failed miserably; Ike tries to reassure him that there have been great advances in the past 30 years, but Churchill remains unconvinced.  Realizing the generals will go against his wishes, Churchill then counters by saying he will be accompanying the troops to Normandy; but after Ike has a conversation with the King of England, he tells Churchill he cannot go.

As all of this unfolds, Churchill’s drinking increases and his mental state declines.  Becoming increasingly depressed, he begins to exhibit erratic behavior and poor temperament around colleagues and his wife Clementine (Richardson).  Finally, Clementine has enough; she feels that her husband has been marginalizing her and it’s time that she leave him.  But after Churchill’s colleagues try to persuade Clementine into staying for the benefit of the country, will she be able to drag her husband out of the deep depression in which he’s mired?

Review

It may be better left to history buffs – either those of World War II or, more specifically, experts on Churchill himself – to fact check much of what it set forth in “Churchill”.  Regardless, it must be noted that flaws in the movie are of the cringe-worthy variety – whether we’re talking about heavy-handed imagery or dialog (particularly of note is the scene where Churchill is supposedly praying, but his supplication evolves into oration to The Almighty).  There are plenty of aspects about this that challenge your disbelief, including the fact that a secretary turned Churchill around on his views and that he only voiced disagreement about the Operation Overlord plans days before their execution when in fact they had been in the works for months. 

As a historical work, “Churchill” could hardly be considered a hagiography; quite the opposite, in fact – The British Bulldog comes across not only as quite fallible but also leaves the audience wondering if he should have been fit for a straitjacket.  That becomes problematic because it results in the audience having a protagonist for whom it is difficult to root.  Add to that the fact that since this is obviously a slice of history, we all know how it turns out so there is very little left in the movie that creates any requisite suspense for viewers. 

While the film may have been something of a disappointment, what saved the evening was a post-screening question and answer session with its star, Brian Cox.  Cox said that he had to gain around 30 pounds in order to play Churchill and he is still battling to lose that weight.  He maintains that while there are many factual elements to the movie (it was written by a historian), there are elements that were manufactured – the secretary portrayed in “Churchill” is actually an amalgam of multiple Churchill secretaries.  Also, Cox noted that while his character was seen smoking many cigars, he doesn’t smoke them himself; during the shoot, they utilized what were basically electronically-operated cigars – basically, he was vaping. 

Churchill (2017) on IMDb

Friday, May 19, 2017

“Dean”– Movie Review

Dean_2017

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy-drama, “Dean”, starring Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen. 

Story

Dean (Martin) and his father Robert (Kline) are having difficulty dealing with the loss of their family member – Dean’s mother and Robert’s wife.  Suddenly, both men find their respective world turned upside down and without direction.  Robert decides he’ll sell the family’s New York house; it’s too big to live in by himself and besides, there are too many memories.  Dean, on the other hand, demurs; that house has memories he desperately wants to retain and neither wants nor needs more disruptions.  While Robert wants to meet with his son in order to discuss plans on how to proceed, Dean avoids it by taking this opportunity to make a business trip to Los Angeles.  

While in LA, Dean meets with an advertising agency that wants to hire him to make humorous illustrations for their client’s upcoming ad campaign.  Once he realizes the gig is not for him, Dean decides to return to NYC to finish his next book of cartoons.  But before he goes, Dean’s invited to a party where he runs into Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), a gorgeous blonde who seems to be aggressively flirting with him.  In no hurry to return to New York, Dean extends his Los Angeles trip to spend time with Nicky.  Meanwhile, Robert has hired Carol (Mary Steenburgen), a real estate agent to help sell his house.  The two find themselves working closely and eventually a mutual attraction develops.   

Ultimately, Dean and Nicky get to spend time alone right before he has to return to New York; although they both felt a strong connection to each other, their future together remains uncertain.  In the meantime, Robert and Carol continue to enjoy each other’s company.  But are both ready to go to the next level in their relationship?  Upon Dean’s return, Robert sells the house and moves into a smaller apartment.  However, there are still unresolved issues between father and son.  Can the two put their differences aside to support each other in their grieving process or will they forever remain estranged?

Review

While it may sound somewhat oxymoronic to describe the surprisingly pleasant “Dean” as a comedy about death, loss and grieving, that is precisely what it is.  Deal with it.  In fact, if that doesn’t sound sufficiently confusing, the movie is actually a romantic comedy.  Before you say, “You can’t do that!”, remember that people also said about “Hogan’s Heroes” that you can’t make a situation comedy about a Nazi prisoner of war camp.  Sometimes, “experts” are just plain wrong.  Let’s just stop right there lest a diatribe on the 2016 presidential election proceeds. 

The reason why “Dean” works as well as it does is precisely because the jokes are genuinely funny.  Judging from this movie alone, it would seem like writer-director-star Demetri Martin is a hybrid of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach as far as his filmmaking style is concerned.  While some may argue that it is unfair to Martin to make such a comparison, it is meant as a compliment – but this young man certainly has a very long way to go in order to be favorably compared to these men in his entire body of work.  We will just have to see what the future holds for Martin. 

One of the more amazing things about “Dean” is that not only did Martin write-direct-co-produce and star in this movie, he also took a credit for creating the illustrations as well – and arguably, these inventive and clever cartoons are worth seeing the film all by themselves.  While Martin doesn’t exactly seem to break any new ground as a director, his screenplay is truly just as funny and unique as the drawings themselves (that said, however, there are some moments that don’t ring true.  For example, are we really to believe that Dean’s father, a professional engineer, can’t figure out how to use a cell phone?).  Also, although it could be said that acting isn’t necessarily Martin’s greatest strength, the performances by Kline and Steenburgen are delightful. 

Dean (2016) on IMDb

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

“Paris Can Wait”– Movie Review

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This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new romantic comedy, “Paris Can Wait”, starring Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin.

Synopsis

When a married woman accepts an offer from a charismatic Frenchman to drive her to Paris, will she succumb to his charms or will she remain faithful to her husband?

Story

While in Cannes joining her husband Michael (Baldwin) on a business trip, Anne (Lane) is suffering ear problems.  Michael is too preoccupied with the exigencies of his film production business, so he doesn’t have the opportunity to spend time with Anne, much less come to her aid regarding her ear problem.  Anne, meanwhile, has also been yearning for a vacation – something which Michael has been way too busy for in recent years.  When problems on a current production require Michael to head to Budapest before proceeding to Paris, Anne agrees to tag along – but when her ear condition precludes her from flying, she instead decides to head straight to Paris on her own.

Originally planning to take a train from Cannes, Anne changes her mind when Jacques (Arnaud Viard), Michael’s business partner, offers to drive her to Paris himself.  Not long into her trip, Anne believes she’s made an egregious mistake.  First, Jacques’ car is old, making it questionable as to whether or not it will survive the journey.  Also, it turns out Jacques isn’t exactly the world’s best driver.  Lastly – and most important – Jacques is not taking a direct route to Paris.  While Anne may be in a hurry to get there, he is obviously not.  Jacques takes her on quite a few side excursions along the way.

Jacques turns out to be quite the connoisseur on a great many things.  These detours open up Anne to a whole new world she would not have otherwise experienced:  great architecture, fabulous scenery and most of all, delicious food and wine.  But along the way, it becomes clear that Jacques may have some ulterior motives on this seemingly generous offer to drive Anne to Paris.  A lonely man who never married, it appears as though he may be trying to seduce Anne and possibly even steal her away from Michael.  Upon finally reaching Paris, Jacques makes Anne an offer to rendezvous with him.  Will Anne leave her husband of 20 years to have an affair with this man?

Review

“Paris Can Wait” is certainly a pleasant enough little trifle, but if you are going to extend the food metaphor (albeit painfully), it is more of a light croissant rather than the heartier cassoulet; it is enjoyable in the moment, but quickly forgettable.  Lane seems to be trying to reprise her success in “Under The Tuscan Sun” with a Gallic twist, combining it with a bit of “Eat, Pray, Love” (with considerable emphasis on the eat).  The main reason to see “Paris Can Wait” – should you choose do to so – is for the breathtaking French sites (especially the countryside) and the mouthwatering shots of the sundry foods.

The biggest problem with “Paris Can Wait” is its flimsy script.  Its dialog can be a bit predictable, including and especially when it comes to the rather awkward and clumsy attempts to impart bits of exposition with the audience.  Additionally, the story lacks any real conflict; although the two face minor setbacks along the way, there is no true antagonist that must be overcome by the two leads either individually or collectively.  Therein lies a serious issue the movie cannot overcome; one never gets the sense of impending doom for either Lane’s character or her marriage. 

But of course the story behind the movie is what’s attracting the most attention.  “Paris Can Wait” was written and directed by Eleanor Coppola, the wife of Francis Ford Coppola; at the age of 81, she’s making her debut as both a screenwriter and feature film director.  Despite her familial connections, it’s nevertheless rather impressive that anyone of such an age would take on such a challenge.  At this point, it almost seems facetious to talk about her “career” as a filmmaker, but in the event she does attempt another motion picture, hopefully it would be something more compelling than a fantasy vacation.  

Paris Can Wait (2016) on IMDb

Sunday, April 30, 2017

“Aardvark”– Movie Review

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On the final weekend of The Tribeca Film Festival, I attended a screening of “Aardvark”, a drama which made its World Premiere earlier in the festival; it stars Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate and Jon Hamm. 

Synopsis

When an emotionally disturbed man seeks assistance from a therapist, can she help mend the relationship with his brother despite her romantic involvement with the brother?

Story

Josh (Quinto) finds himself at something of a crossroads in his life.  That’s why he’s seeking assistance from Emily (Slate), a local Clinical Social Worker who’s set up practice out of her own home in this Queens, New York, neighborhood.  A troubled man, Josh is on multiple medications due to a prior diagnosis of schizophrenia.  In addition to that, he’s currently experiencing great anxiety over his relationship with his older brother Craig (Hamm), whom he hasn’t seen in years.  Through their sessions, Emily sets out to peel back the layers to understand the source of the conflict.  

Craig, by contrast, has gone on to enjoy a life of great success as an actor in Hollywood.  Having starred in a hit television series, Craig’s returned to his Queens neighborhood to sell the house that was left to him by his and Josh’s late parents.  Despite being in the vicinity, Craig is reluctant to visit Josh; Josh, however, believes he is being visited by Craig, but these are hallucinations that are merely a manifestation of his mental illness.  Sadly, when Josh sees a police officer or a homeless woman, he believes that this is his brilliant brother Craig as an actor in character. 

When Craig visits Emily to check up on Josh’s condition, they hit it off immediately and start dating.  Before long, they enter into a romantic relationship which both know to be wrong but irresistible.  Over time, Josh’s condition worsens and Craig becomes increasingly distant.  After suffering a beating from some locals, Josh is hospitalized; Emily visits him and is confronted with the realization it is imperative Craig gets over his hesitancy to see Josh – but when she finally convinces Craig to visit him once Josh is discharged, will their meeting patch things up or only prove to make matters worse?   

Review

Based on the little amount of screen time the character gets, this is clearly not Craig’s story.  Therefore, simply by the process of elimination, it would seem that either Emily or Josh have the majority of time in “Aardvark”.  So which one of them is the protagonist here?  It can’t be Emily because she’s part of the problem – she is, arguably, the world’s worst therapist based on the many bad decisions we see her make throughout the story (including bad decisions she’s made in her past, given what eventually gets revealed about her). 

This leaves Josh as the only character who could possibly be perceived as the protagonist of “Aardvark”.  Therein lies the movie’s fatal flaw.  Josh, as sympathetic as he may be, is a difficult character to root for because his illness precludes him from being in control of his own life; as the protagonist, Josh should be the one with the character arc, but it is in fact his brother, Craig, who goes through the transformation.  This change is not voluntary; it is in fact forced upon him by Emily, which results in making Craig appear less heroic in the eyes of the audience because he did not embark on this change himself.  Ultimately, “Aardvark” is a film in search of a protagonist it never quite finds.     

Following the screening was a question and answer session with writer/director Brian Shoaf.  Shoaf knows Quinto from their days studying acting in college; over the years, they attempted to work together, but it never worked out.  Eventually, Quinto formed a production company with a mutual friend of theirs and wound up making several films.  Later, Shoaf sent Quinto the screenplay for “Aardvark” through his agent and Quinto decided he wanted to play Josh so much he agreed to co-produce.  Through Quinto, they were able to add Hamm and Slate to the cast, which made funding easier. 

Aardvark (2017) on IMDb

Monday, April 24, 2017

“Flower”– Movie Review

Flower

This weekend at The Tribeca Film Festival, I attended the World Premiere of the new comedy-drama, “Flower”, starring Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn and Adam Scott. 

Synopsis

When teenagers go too far in an attempt to seek revenge on a neighborhood man, will they eventually wind up in prison for his murder? 

Story

Erica (Deutch) and her friends are a group of perfectly normal seventeen year olds from southern California – assuming, of course, you consider teenage girls extorting money from older men by taking photographs of them in compromising situations with the girls to be “perfectly normal”.  Otherwise, they’re a pretty out of control bunch.  As their leader, it’s understandable why Erica is so wild – her father is currently doing time in prison for armed robbery and her mother Laurie (Hahn) is so lax, she doesn’t have much in the way of parental skills.  

Laurie announces that her boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker) is moving in with her and bringing with him his teenage son Luke (Joey Morgan).  Luke is a real piece of work.  Just coming out of a rehabilitation center, this obese teenager about a year older than Erica is emotionally fragile.  His story is that he got one of his teachers in trouble by accusing him of sexual molestation; when Luke’s story failed to hold up under further scrutiny, he only wound up getting himself in deeper tribulation.  With few friends to begin with, Luke has only served to make himself more isolated. 

The local bowling alley is a refuge for Erica and her pals; there, they swoon over Will (Adam Scott), a “hot” older guy Erica wants to add to her collection.  Erica’s feelings about Will change when she learns he’s the teacher Luke tried to report.  Together, they formulate a plan where Erica will seduce him and her friends would take photos of him with her, which they could use to bribe him.  However, the plans go awry; when Will passes out from a sedative, he falls down and seriously hurts himself.  Unaware as to the extent of his injuries, the teenagers proceed with their scheme to take compromising pictures with him.  But when it’s found out that Will died from his wound, can Erica and Luke escape justice or will they both wind up serving a prison sentence of their own?  

Review

Simply put, the fundamental problem that “Flower” has is the fact that its protagonist is unsympathetic.  There is precious little – arguably nothing – that is done throughout much of the movie that changes the viewer’s opinion.  In a dramatic narrative such as this, the filmmaker essentially wants to have a protagonist in whom the audience can have some degree of an emotional investment.  Lacking this, the audience must reasonably wonder for whom are we to root in this film?  One might make the case that the most sympathetic characters are either the mother or her boyfriend, but it’s not their story.     

When a movie opens by presenting the protagonist in an unflattering light, there are certain things that must be done to change the audience’s view to make the protagonist’s story one worth caring about.  One way this can be done is by relentlessly punishing the character throughout much of the rest of the tale to the point that the viewers will feel that the protagonist has suffered enough and now is worthy of the audience’s support.  “Flower” rejects this notion and therein lies its failing; instead, it doubles down on reinforcing how evil the character is, then making an attempt at sympathy at the end.  It might be reasonably debated that a great motion picture like “Raging Bull” can be made when its protagonist is an unsympathetic character; a fair point, but remember that “Raging Bull” was a biopic while the protagonist of “Flower” is fictional. 

Following the screening was a question and answer session with director Max Winkler.  Winkler said that what drew him to this screenplay was the fact that it reminded him of many of John Hughes’ movies from the 1980’s.  At 33 years of age, Winkler admitted that Hughes’ style of coming of age films was deep in his DNA and that’s why the story struck a nerve with him.  Since the story was about a teenage girl, Winkler said that he decided to hire an all female crew as well; he felt that maintaining the women’s perspective in the motion picture would help to keep him more honest in his storytelling. 

Flower (2017) on IMDb

TFF

Sunday, April 23, 2017

“One Percent More Humid”–Movie Review

1pcThis weekend at The Tribeca Film Festival, I attended the World Premiere of the new drama, “One Percent More Humid”, starring  Juno Temple and Julia Garner

Synopsis

When a pair of college age young women reunite for their last summer together, will their friendship be able to survive after a shared traumatic experience?

Story

In a small New England town, Iris (Temple) and Catherine (Garner) decide to share a house with friends once their college semester has concluded; they hope to enjoy their summer together – which may in fact be their last as life could soon have them taking some unexpected turns.  For one thing, Iris has pursued post-graduate studies and is now working on a thesis; Catherine, however, may not have such certain directions with regard to her own future.  Nevertheless, they will make an effort to put their troubles aside and have fun for the next couple of months. 

As much as the two young women try to enjoy themselves, there is an unspoken secret between them:  the death of their mutual friend Mae, which occurred just a few months ago.  There was an automobile accident – Catherine was driving.  Although unimpaired by either drugs or alcohol, the accident was her fault because she took her eye off the road at a sharp turn; both she and Iris suffered injuries, but Mae was flung from the car and perished.  In the short term, both Iris and Christine suffer survivor’s guilt, but attempt to heal their emotional wounds through the bonds of friendship. 

That, however, is not the only way the two young women try to heal.  Iris has regular meetings with Gerald (Alessandro Nivola), the forty-something married college professor advising her on her thesis.  With Gerald’s wife stuck in New York City due to work-related matters, Iris seizes this opportunity to put the moves on Gerald.  Finding this an irresistible opportunity, Gerald engages in an affair with his student.  Guilty over the incident that killed Mae, Catherine seduces Mae’s brother, hoping to seek his forgiveness.  But when Mae’s parents sue Catherine over the wrongful death of their daughter, what impact will this have on her friendship with Iris?   

Review

How you view eroticism may very well determine how you experience “One Percent More Humid”.  There is plenty of sex and nudity; the majority of this is young female nudity, it’s a bit surprising that it comes from a female director.  If it came from a male director, would it have been considered exploitative?  Although slightly over an hour and a half in length, it feels long and languid due to its overwhelmingly dour tone.  While there are attempts at lighthearted moments to break up the mood, one never loses the sense that there is a dark cloud hanging over the entire movie as well as the characters themselves.  No matter how much partying any of them may do, their lives are irrevocably headed for a derailment. 

The performances – especially by the two girls – are quite convincing and passionate.  To a degree, it’s the screenplay that lets them down because for a movie of a reasonable length, it takes a bit too long to get its story started – and the reveal for its angst is somewhat drawn out.  It needed to get to the point a little more quickly.  The fact that the future of the friendship between these girls remains somewhat up in the air at the end is not a problem; what is a problem, however, it the fact that we don’t learn earlier in the film why it will eventually and inevitably come to that conclusion. 

Following the screening, there was an interview with most of the cast and the director/screenwriter Liz W. Garcia.  Garcia is a staunch advocate of more women in filmmaking and believes that women’s voices need to be heard from with increasing frequency in the movies; while Garcia believes that women have made progress, she concedes that there is still a long way to go to attain equality.  Much of the system in the film industry, she maintains, is not entirely supportive of this – whether this is an anti-feminist backlash or the belief that the movies are not marketable is not entirely clear. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

“Gilbert”– Movie Review

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This week at the Tribeca Film Festival, I attended the World Premiere of the new documentary “Gilbert”, starring Gilbert Gottfried and a variety of other comedians.


Synopsis


When the notorious stand-up comedian Gilbert Gottfried finally starts a family in his 50’s, how will this change his comedy and his personality?


Story


Back in the 1980’s when Gilbert Gottfried broke in as a stand-up comedian, his zany style and loud, raspy voice helped to make him stand out among his peers.  The fact that his material reflected a unique view of the world didn’t hurt, either.  But Gottfried’s road to success began with a difficult relationship with his father while growing up in Brooklyn.  Gottfried’s father, a handyman, browbeat his only son to “be somebody”, whatever that meant – perhaps by learning a trade of some kind so he would always be able to make a living.  Instead, Gottfried responded to his father’s demands by dropping out of high school to pursue his dream career as a stand-up comedian.


Although Gottfried initially encountered resentment from audiences unfamiliar with him and his unusual manner, many of his fellow comedians immediately recognized his talent and were fully supportive and encouraging.  Eventually, the audience caught up to what he was doing and his popularity grew exponentially.  Soon thereafter, he began making television appearances and earning movie roles, which raised his visibility to the point that he could demand more money when performing at comedy clubs.  Despite his success, his friends knew him to possess some rather quirky behavior, which limited him socially. 


Late in life, Gottfried fell in love with Dara, whom he would subsequently marry; they had two children, one daughter and one son.  While Dara dotes on him, Gottfried appears more distant and emotionally unavailable; in typical Gottfried fashion, he’ll give her Anniversary or Valentines Day cards that have “GO F*** YOURSELF!” scrawled above the romantic poem on the inside of the card.  When Dara tells him, “I love you”, his response is, “That’s your problem”.  With their two children craving their father’s attention whenever he’s not on the road, will this newfound family life have any impact on Gottfried either personally or professionally?


Review


If you’ve ever laughed until you’ve become light-headed, then you know exactly what it’s  like to watch the hour and a half long documentary “Gilbert”.  The movie includes many old clips from Gottfried’s television and film appearances, as well as excerpts from his stand-up act.  For long-time fans of this controversial comic, it is a fond trip down memory lane to remind admirers what drew them to this nut in the first place.  But the film is not all laughs as we learn about Gottfried’s parents and siblings as well as his wife Dara and their two children.  In those times, the comedian is uncharacteristically sullen.


Director Neil Berkeley avoids the bane of such movies of this genre, namely The Talking Heads Syndrome, which besets many documentaries.  Berkeley accomplishes this by breaking up the interviews with Gottfried’s film/TV/performance clips; in this way, he winds up having the interviewees provide voiceover narrations, so they come across less as straight interviews.  Where the documentary may fall a little bit short is with scenes that appear that they may have been staged specifically for the movie:  examples include Gottfried ironing his shirt, playing with his children and visits to one of his older sisters. 


Following the screening, there was an interview with director Neil Berkeley and Gottfried – or at least there was an attempt to interview Gottfried.  As usual, he took over and started going into a portion of his stand-up act.  Singer-songwriter Paul Williams is a friend of Gottfried’s and attended the screening.  In his honor, Gottfried went into a routine, the premise being, “What if Paul Williams and Shirley Temple shared an intimate moment?”.  As you might expect (a) none of it can be repeated here and (b) it’s terribly funny.  Berkeley said he pitched the idea to Gottfried while they had coffee at a diner; he asked Gottfried if he still loved doing stand-up comedy and Gottfried responded no, that he in fact hated still having to perform his act.  It was at this point, Berkeley noted, that he knew Gottfried would make a good documentary. 

 

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Friday, April 14, 2017

“Norman”– Movie Review

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This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “Norman”, starring Richard Gere.

Synopsis

When a New York man worms his way into the life of the Israeli Prime Minister, can his newfound influence help him get out of an international corruption scandal?

Story

Norman Oppenheimer (Gere) is what they call a “fixer” – a person who is capable of getting certain types of things done for people, especially for people who are perceived to be somewhat influential.  These things, of course, are done for a price – but not necessarily something that is immediately paid for.  Instead, they might be considered a favor that will need to be repaid at some point in the future.  Norman is such a person who is perfectly willing and able to bend over backwards for people, believing he can call in a favor from them if and when he is in such a need.

So far, Norman’s favors have tended to go to people who are of more modest accomplishments in life.  One day, however, Norman succeeds in catching his White Whale.  Micah Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) is a member of the Knesset currently visiting New York City on a business trip.  Norman, a Jewish man with interests in Israel’s political scene, essentially stalks Eshel; befriending him, Norman buys Eshel an expensive pair of shoes that Eshel covets.  They cost Norman around $1200, but he hopes it will turn out to be a worthwhile investment in the long run. 

Over the next several years, Norman and Eshel keep in touch; Norman continues to do a number of small favors for Eshel along the way and Eshel’s political career blossoms.  Eventually, he is elected Prime Minister of Israel.  On Eshel’s first trip to New York since becoming Prime Minister, Norman looks him up and they quickly renew their friendship.  But things do not evolve as Norman thinks; the opposition party in Israel soon accuses Eshel of accepting gifts from a powerful foreign businessman – who astonishingly turns out to be Norman himself!  When Norman finds himself in trouble, can this master manipulator somehow extricate himself without causing problems for his pal?

Review

Once upon a time, we lived in a society where people were not as politically correct as they are now.  During this ancient period, people were not outraged when non-traditional casting was used and actors who were of European descent played Asians and Caucasians might play Mexicans or Indians.  It would be difficult to get away with such things today without getting scathingly criticized, especially in social media.  With that in mind, one must wonder if there will be a backlash over the fact that gentile Richard Gere plays an older Jewish man from Manhattan?

If that happened, it would most certainly be a shame because “Norman:  The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” (the movie’s full title) is full of surprises.  Not only is “Norman” a supremely entertaining film (the first surprise), but Richard Gere is excellent in the title role (the other surprise).  In fact, it would not be going too far to say that this may very well be Gere’s best performance in a very long time.  “Norman” can brag of a great cast, but Gere is uncannily believable as a Jewish man, even if his performance does at times seem reminiscent of a Woody Allen imitation. 

“Norman” is a true gem of a motion picture that deserves as wide an audience as possible.  It’s a truly original story about the meaning and value of friendship as well as the perfidy that is the very nature of politics.  Joseph Cedar wrote and directed; both the script and the visual style of the movie are quite clever in the way Norman’s story unfolds with unexpected moments that really pull in the viewer.  Will “Norman” be perceived as either too Jewish, too New York or too both to get people not of that ethnicity or geography to be interested?  It is far too worthy a film to suffer such a fate.   

Norman (2016) on IMDb

Friday, April 07, 2017

“Colossal”– Movie Review

 

colossal

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new science fiction comedy, “Colossal”, starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. 

Synopsis

When a woman realizes her drunken behavior turns her into a monster that wreaks havoc on humanity, can she both curb her behavior and seek redemption?

Story

If you were to look up the term “hot mess” in the dictionary, there’s no doubt you’d find a picture of Gloria (Hathaway).  Having recently lost her job writing for an online magazine, she’s taken her imbibing up to the next level, partying daily and staying up all night before passing out.  Her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) has had enough; when Gloria finally returns home after her latest Bacchanalia, she finds he’s packed her bags and is throwing her out.  With no place left to go, she leaves New York City and heads for the only other place she’s ever known as home:  the small town in New Hampshire where she grew up.

Once there, Gloria stays in her parents’ old house, which remains barren of furnishings of any kind since they left.  In the process of getting settled, she runs into Oscar (Sudeikis), her childhood friend, who is now running his late father’s bar.  Upon learning of Gloria’s situation, he offers her a job bartending and waitressing at his establishment.  While this may initially seem generous, Gloria eventually learns Oscar’s motivations aren’t entirely what they seem.  In reality, he’s forming a group of drinking buddies and feels the more the merrier, which is why he now wants to include Gloria.

Socializing with her new friends, Gloria is horrified to learn that she turns into a gigantic lizard-like monster that terrorizes Seoul, South Korea whenever she gets drunk.  This monster wreaks havoc, destroying buildings and killing people.  Even worse, soon Oscar develops his own alter ego when inebriated:  it is that of an enormous robot that likewise causes untold mayhem in Seoul.  While Gloria struggles to remain sober so she no longer hurts anyone as the monster, Oscar discovers a newfound sense of power that he finds exhilarating.  Can Gloria somehow manage to remain sober while finding a way to stop Oscar’s rampages on innocent people? 

Review

“Colossal” hits all of the major “W” words:  Weird, Wild and most of all Wonderful.  It’s a crazy trip, basically a portmanteau of an old style Japanese monster movie and a dark comedy.  You’ll either be willing to suspend your disbelief for this frenzied madhouse or not.  If not, too bad because you’ll miss one of the most fun movies you’ll see in a very long time.  It is a creative, imaginative, unique experience that also makes some rather salient points about human behavior.  This may only be Spring, but if you’re making a list of best films of 2017, “Colossal” will at the very least deserve honorable mention. 

If there is a criticism, it may be in its casting, but it’s not necessarily that huge a problem.  While both Hathaway and Sudeikis are fine, it’s a bit of a stretch buying into Hathaway as a party gal; she seems a little too clean for all of that behavior and also has difficulty in exhibiting a dark side.  Sudeikis, on the other hand is very convincing when he turns evil; the change is abrupt, but given the fact that it comes about as a result of alcohol, that makes it more realistic.  When she’s drunk, she still nice; when he’s drunk, he’s angry and vindictive.  Her behavior is accidental while his is deliberate. 

Writer/Director Nacho Vigalondo does a sensational job in both tasks, but especially so toward the end of the movie as the story wraps up with its unexpected ending (which also turns out to be quite funny itself).  Vigalondo brilliantly wrings out twist after twist in this story; the audience never sees what’s coming next.  Without qualification, “Colossal” is worth seeing in the theater, rather than waiting for a rental.  If you do manage to see it with someone, it’s certain to spark a great deal of fascinating conversation afterwards.  As a matter of fact, bringing a friend with an alcohol problem may be an interesting way to instigate an intervention.   

Colossal (2016) on IMDb

Thursday, April 06, 2017

“Gifted”– Movie Review

 

gifted

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “Gifted”, starring Chris Evans and Jenny Slate. 

Synopsis

When a child prodigy is raised by her uncle, can they remain together after her talents are discovered or will they be forced to part ways permanently?

Story

In the Pinellas County section of Florida, Frank Adler (Evans) does his best to raise his seven year old niece Mary (Mckenna Grace), a prodigy in mathematics.  Feeling it would be in the child’s best interests to be treated as an average girl, he enrolls her in first grade at the local public school.  It doesn’t take long to see this plan isn’t going to work.  Her teacher Bonnie (Slate) quickly recognizes Mary’s gifts, but also sees the child’s boredom and impatience turn her into a behavioral liability.  When the principal recommends Mary be placed in a school for gifted children, Frank is reluctant; even though she would get a scholarship, he is concerned about Mary’s welfare in such an environment.

At this point, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) shows up at Frank’s doorstep; she’s Mary’s grandmother and now that the child’s education is at stake, she suddenly wants to be involved in her granddaughter’s life.  Frank opposes this because he wants Mary to stay with him and because he believes Evelyn will ruin Mary’s life.  This sparks a fierce argument between Frank and Evelyn.  He is raising Mary because her father abandoned her and her mother (Frank’s sister), Diane, committed suicide; Frank therefore fears Evelyn will have the same toxic influence on Mary’s life that she did with Diane. 

Enraged, the wealthy Evelyn takes Frank – a relative pauper – to court battling over which one of them will get custody of Mary.  In the meantime, Evelyn’s lawyer is able to get the judge to grant her permission for a visit from Mary; during this time, Evelyn’s true reasons for wanting custody of Mary become evident.  It turns out that assuming custody of Mary would potentially resolve two problems for Evelyn:  one has to do with unfinished business she had with her own daughter and the other concerns some unfulfilled dreams Evelyn had for her own career.  Knowing Diane wanted Mary kept away from Evelyn, can Frank somehow manage to retain custody of his niece? 

Review

The first thing you’ll likely think of should you see “Gifted” is “Kramer versus Kramer”; this is forgivable, even if “Gifted” is nowhere near the quality of “Kramer versus Kramer”.  In fact, for those who’ve never seen “Kramer versus Kramer”, it may still be the case that “Gifted” will feel familiar.  Again, that’s understandable because it is touching on quite a few of the clich├ęs we’ve come to see (if not expect) in many movies.  “Gifted” certainly does a good job of manipulating the emotions of its audience, even if it does manage to use some of the oldest tricks in the screenwriter’s handbook.

One of the ways in which “Gifted” falters is how it portrays its hero (Frank) and its villain (Evelyn).  It’s all just a little too pat and formulaic.  The hero is nothing short of perfect and its villain comes off as inhumane; it would have been so much more compelling a story if both parties had been equals in both their positive and negative attributes.  We are programmed to support the hero because the alternative is basically akin to rooting for Cruella de Vil.  Perhaps it is better off to pull for the little girl, since she’s the one who’s is at the center of this activity. 

Unfortunately, the always cute-as-a-button Jenny Slate isn’t given very much to do in terms of showing her considerable comedic talents.  Sadly, she’s underutilized, so don’t expect her to command the screen in the same way that she did in “Obvious Child”.  Chris Evans is Captain America with a pickup truck and Lindsay Duncan as Evelyn is simply two-dimensional.  “Gifted” is a fair to middling movie with nothing much remarkable to merit seeing it, while lacking anything so awful as to rank it as among the worst – but if you do choose to see it, bring the biggest box of tissues you can find because you’ll surely be using all of them.   

Metacritic Reviews

Thursday, March 30, 2017

“Ghost In The Shell”– Movie Review

 

GITS

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new science fiction drama, “Ghost In The Shell”, starring Scarlett Johansson. 

Synopsis

When criminals try to destroy the creations of a major robotics firm, can a half-human/half-robot special agent stop them before they go too far?

Story

Hanka Robotics is a successful technology company which has pioneered advancements in the design and manufacture of robots.  In this future day and age, it is common for robots to live among humans – in fact, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish the humans from the robots.  One day, they discover an opportunity that suddenly presents itself:  a young woman who has suffered serious bodily injury in an accident has her brain transplanted into a new “shell” – a superior robot that can easily be mistaken for human due to new technology. 

This new form of human robot is oriented to her new world and trained in law enforcement skills; she becomes known simply as Major (Johansson), leader of Section 9, a special task force charged with the responsibility of defending society from the most dangerous of criminals.  About a year into her new life, Major must investigate a case where some of Hanka’s best robots and most senior employees are being destroyed (killed) by some unknown group of extremists.  Who would do this and why?  That’s part of what Major needs to determine quickly.

It turns out this group of high-tech terrorists have found a way to hack into minds and spread viruses.  These criminals are robots who themselves were created by Hanka, but have turned against the company when it was learned that they were lied to about their past life.  This new information forces Major to call into question her own existence:  was she also lied to by Hanka about her past?  Can she somehow fill in the blank spots in her memory regarding her personal history?  But when Major starts fighting back against Hanka herself, can she bring down the company before they murder her?

Review

Many of the visual effects from “Ghost In The Shell” are reminiscent of “The Matrix”.  If you’re so madly in love with the effects from “The Matrix” and wanted to see them in a different movie, then maybe that’s a good thing.  On the other hand, if you were looking for something more innovative, then perhaps it’s a bad thing.  In either case, this remake (both motion pictures being based on a Japanese Manga comic) is a little muddied at times making it hard to follow.  If you are a fan of the comic (or at least saw the original Anime from 20 years ago), you might be better equipped to follow the story. 

What’s distracting is how some of the characters interact with each other.  In many scenes, the Japanese characters speak their native language (with English subtitles) and the non-Japanese characters will reply in English.  If there was an explanation for this (are they internally translating?), it wasn’t terribly clear.  This also brings up the issue that there are, in fact, many non-Japanese characters in what appears to be a major Japanese city (Tokyo?).  Perhaps this is simply a carry-over from the Manga or Anime, but if it was, again, those unfamiliar with either of these might be a little lost. 

Is it acceptable if a movie (even a remake) based on a comic can only be appreciated by those familiar with the source material?  From a creative standpoint, there may be a case for this.  However, from a business perspective, it’s a lousy idea.  The objective, of course, is to make the most money possible; if you are narrowing your audience to people familiar with the Manga, then you’ve already decided that you likely will not achieve blockbuster status.  Not that having a blockbuster should be the main (or only) goal when making a movie, but if you decide you’re not going for the widest audience possible, then you have to lower your expectations – and budget – accordingly. 

Ghost in the Shell (2017) on IMDb

Monday, March 27, 2017

“Person To Person”– Movie Review

 

P2P

On the closing night of the New Directors/New Films series, I saw “Person To Person”, with Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson.

Synopsis

A day in the life of  some quirky denizens of New York City.

Story

Claire (Jacobson) is a librarian who feels she’s wasting her life there, so she pursues journalism.  Getting an opportunity at The New York News, she is interviewed by Phil (Cera), one of the editors, who decides to give her an assignment as something of an audition:  recently, there was a case where a man turned up dead, but it’s unclear if it was a suicide or if he was murdered by his wife.  Claire’s job is to serve as an investigative reporter, trying to get a scoop by interviewing the wife.  Phil, however, has ulterior motives; besides merely beating his competitors, he also wishes to hook up with Claire. 

Bene (Bene Coopersmith) is devotee of vinyl; when he hears someone is looking to sell a rare Charlie Parker album, he’s excited and willing to spend the money to add this to his already vast record collection.  But is the seller legitimate and is the record authentic?  Meanwhile, Ray (George Sample III), his best friend, is currently crashing at Bene’s apartment after breaking up with his girlfriend.  Angrily, Ray responded with revenge porn:  he posted nude photos of his ex-girlfriend on the Internet.  When Ray learns his ex knows about it, what happens when she sends her brother and his friends after him?

Wendy (Tavi Gavinson) is a teenager confused about her sexual identity; even her best friend thinks Wendy is a lesbian.  Also, Wendy is very critical of her friend’s boyfriend – not to mention generally critical (and cynical) about relationships.  Although Wendy admits to experimenting with girls, she denies ever trying to be with a boy, adding to the speculation about her true sexuality.  The friend arranges for her boyfriend to visit while Wendy is there – and he brings a buddy.  Will Wendy be interested in hooking up with him or will she steadfastly hold to her views?  

Review

“Person To Person” has a few humorous, entertaining scenes, but overall, the movie does not hold up because the individual stories aren’t all that cohesive.  The resolutions to the various tales lack a significant payoff, causing you to wonder what the point was.  The fact that these incidents take place in New York City seems more of a coincidence than anything else; there appears to be little making any of these unique to this city.  How this enhances the film all-around is a bit of a quandary; many situations could occur in any city.  The choice to place them in New York seems fairly arbitrary.

While the movie may have some good performances, many characters come off as unsympathetic.  Not that they’re evil, but you wouldn’t want to go on a cross-country drive with them.  Phil is creepy, Claire is desperate, Ray is vindictive and Wendy is obnoxious.  Also, Bene’s romantic subplot seems completely orthogonal to the main thrust of that vignette.  The most interesting characters are the simplest – Jimmy (Philip Baker Hall) and the friends who hang out at his shop.  It seems a funnier (and more interesting) story would have revolved around Jimmy and his customers.       

Following the screening, there was a brief question and answer session with the movie’s writer/director Dustin Guy Defa and most of the cast.  Defa said that since most of his background is in shorts, he decided to make a feature-length film by putting together several of his older short films where a central theme ran through – namely, the intermingling of various New Yorkers on a day in the city.  He mentioned casting the parts was done through various means – some actors he already knew, some were through a casting director, and others came onto the project via mutual acquaintances.  

Person to Person (2017) on IMDb

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

“Wilson”– Movie Review

 

wilson

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy “Wilson”, starring Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer.

Synopsis

When a man tries to reconnect with his ex-wife, how will he deal with the ramifications of his actions?

Story

Following the death of his elderly father, Wilson (Harrelson) is forced to confront his new reality:  he is now completely alone in life.  He has virtually no friends and the only current “relationship” he has is with his dog, Pepper.  Wilson has only himself to blame for this; he is distinctly unpleasant to be around because of his aggressively in-your-face behavior, which no one seems to appreciate – although some may be more capable of tolerating it than others.    One such person is Shelly (Greer), a neighbor whom he occasionally hires to dog-sit Pepper when he’s not around. 

One of Wilson’s great regrets in life is the failure of his marriage to Pippi (Dern), who abandoned him 17 years ago and moved to Los Angeles; pregnant at the time, she allegedly had an abortion.  In an effort to remedy his interminable sense of isolation, Wilson actively seeks out his ex-wife, whom he believes may now be a drug addict working as a prostitute.  Wilson finally locates Pippi, who is actually a waitress, and is quite reluctant to establish any kind of friendship with her ex-husband; however, as they catch-up, Pippi makes a remarkable revelation:  she never had that abortion.  Instead, Pippi gave birth – a daughter, whom she immediately put up for adoption. 

Delighted at the thought he’s a father, Wilson decides he must now look-up his daughter Claire (Isabella Amara).  Wilson and Pippi locate Claire, who is living in an expansive house with a well-to-do family.  Despite her privileged life, Claire is deeply unhappy –  in part because her parents ignore her but also because she has no friends due to being overweight.  The three set off on a road trip in an effort to form a relationship based on their biological connection – however, when Claire turns up missing, her parents have Wilson arrested.  Convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to three years in prison, can Wilson survive the experience and have a normal, happy life?  

Review

“Wilson” is a comedy that strains to be funny – and speaking of straining, it is certainly a strain to find much positive to say about this movie.  In a too-small role, Judy Greer is the one warm redemptive ray of sunlight that possesses the humanity that the remaining characters lack.  But that’s about it.  The rest of the time it is rather bleak and Wilson himself is the kind of protagonist you just want to punch in the face (which is what makes his scenes in prison so deeply satisfying); it doesn’t help that Harrelson overacts the part on top of that. 

It would seem that “Wilson” is trying to get by simply by being weird.  Epic fail.  We are supposed to like this character because of his affinity with his dog, who appears to be the only real and truly loyal friend he has (all of his other so-called “friends” really don’t seem to like him all that much – and sincerely, who can blame them?).  Once Wilson finds himself in prison, are we supposed to feel sorry for him or is the audience expected to find this funny?  If Wilson was a more likeable character, we’d root for him; if he was at all funny in his antics, this situation might be amusing.  Instead, we are left with a turn in the story that is simply unnerving, not to mention baffling.   

The movie is based on a graphic novel that apparently has a sufficient-enough following that folks decided it would be worth turning into a film.  This wound up being a terrible idea.  It is too bad because “Wilson” can boast of a terrific cast, but all of them seem to be trying way too hard to put lipstick on this pig and the screenplay (written by the creator of the comic) is undeserving of such an effort.  While a curmudgeon can be funny (Walter Matthau was at his best as such characters), Wilson comes across as more obnoxious than humorous.  It is only March, but this may be a candidate for Worst Films Of 2017. 

Wilson (2017) on IMDb

Monday, March 20, 2017

“Quest”– Movie Review

 

quest-olshefski

This week, I attended another screening of the New Directors/New Films Series by The Film Society Of Lincoln Center and The Museum Of Modern Art:  the new documentary “Quest” by director Jonathan Olshefski

Synopsis

From 2008 until 2016, an African American family is forced to overcome extraordinary adversity. 

Story

In 2008, Christopher “Quest” Rainey of North Philadelphia experienced two major life-changing events:  one was that he finally married Christine’a, his girlfriend of 15 years; the otehr being Barack Obama was elected as America’s first African-American president.  While both Christopher and Christine’a brought children from a previous marriage into their union, they also produced a daughter of their own, PJ, who is 12 years old at this time.  Christine’a is the main breadwinner for the family, working at a homeless shelter, while Christopher does what he can to contribute to their children – but afterwards, he operates a recording studio in the basement of their home.

While they struggle to make ends meet, Christine’a also has another concern:  William, her 21 year old son, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Forced to live at home due to his illness, he has to endure countless debilitating chemotherapy sessions, which of course make him sick.  He yearns to someday hold down a job in order to support his own young son, for whom Christine’a must care during his recovery.  In the meantime, Christopher is trying to find the next big rapper who will rocket him to success and help him be a better provider for his family.

At this point, they are caught in the midst of an unexpected tragedy:  PJ, who by now is in her mid-teens, is caught in the crossfire of warring neighborhood gangs and is shot in the face just a few blocks from her home, causing her to lose her left eye.  This makes the family unite behind her and once she is home from the hospital, they plan a block party to celebrate her return, where many of the community are glad to attend to show their love.  But as PJ learns how to deal with her new life, she is also now turning into a young woman – one who has discovered she is a lesbian and eventually comes out to her family.  Will this unexpected turn result in the family rejecting her or serve as yet another reason to band together?

Review

At its heart, what this documentary is about can be summed up in one word:  resilience.  This is a family that keeps bouncing back no matter what challenges life presents – and despite all of it, they remain solid, admirable people, worthy of the respect and support of any audience.  It is unimaginable what these folks have been forced to suffer through and the fact that they have emerged intact is nothing short of triumphant.  “Quest” is a celebration of the dignity of the American family and The Raineys are the paradigm upon whom we should all model ourselves. 

All of that said, there are some issues with the movie, likely due to the fact that this is a director who never made a documentary before.  The structure definitely appears sound:  each act is centered on a presidential election – in 2008, then again in 2012 and finally 2016 at the conclusion.  Where the problem comes is in the passage of time; clearly, we know that it occurs, but it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of exactly at what point in time you are viewing the family.  What probably would have been helpful are graphics that showed (at the very least) the month and year when each scene occurred. 

Following the screening, there was an interview with director Jonathan Olshefski and The Rainey Family.  He said he shot about 400 hours worth of footage over an eight year period, boiling it down to just under two hours – although much of it wasn’t usable because, as he admitted, there were long gaps of time when nothing worth keeping in the film occurred.  With a background in photography, he started out doing a visual essay on a man who had a recording studio in his basement, but soon realized that he had to switch to a different medium since the still pictures didn’t do it justice.  PJ was also there; she is 17 years old now and said she plans to attend college in the autumn.   

Quest (2017) on IMDb